The distinction between nationalism and patriotism

There’s loving your country for what it does right, and then there’s loving your country for whatever it does. I think the former is a nice sentiment but I think that the latter is a lot more sinister. In this piece I’m going to talk about why nationalism is a word which I think is quite bloated and why patriotism is perhaps the better term to use when expressing love for your country.

It should also be noted that this is an opinion piece more than anything and isn’t really very factual. Feel free to disagree.

In truth I feel much of nationalism is varnished tribalism; a feeling of self-pride for something ‘one of your people’ has done. It’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality, which only seeks to foster more divisions in an already divided society. In a world where people are defined by a lot of things they can’t determine, why add nationality to the list? Love your country, but do not try hard to rationalise your love for it. Sometimes you simply can’t (it’s love after all, what were you thinking)? At the same time, I don’t want to mistake tolerance of other nations as unconditional acceptance for their customs. With this in mind, I can understand why people would feel that they live in a ‘better’ country to someone else’s. We should promote international dialogue, and with that nations will begin to align with one another naturally.

I feel bad for these people.

I recognise and admire the unity of some nations, but I just think having to deploy nationalist rhetoric to achieve this unity is a sad sign of how susceptible people are to an entitlement they don’t actually acquire themselves. Speaking with candour to people about this issue would produce the best dialogue. A greater appreciation for the countries we neighbour at the expense of casting away inflated appreciations of our own nations could lead to more cordial relations.

There’s a distinction to be made between patriotism and nationalism. Sydney Harris (1917-1986) discussed how that distinction should be made:

The patriot is proud of his country for what it does [well], and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.

(Dhruv, a friend of mine who also writes, gave his thoughts below).

If we look at a recent example of the ill effects of nationalism, David Cameron’s Conservative Party won the recent General Election in May by playing a nationalist fear card to bring more votes their way. One overriding feature of the Conservative campaign was scaremongering; the idea that the Scottish National Party supporting the Labour Party in government would be disastrous for the country, and the rest of Britain must vote to keep their union intact. However, while this tactic put Cameron back in 10 Downing Street, it completely demolished the Labour vote in Scotland, allowed the SNP to win all but three seats in the same place and left the Liberal Democrats decimated across the country. Scottish nationalism is now enjoying a huge amount of success, as is English nationalism. This division between peoples of the same union; the same country, is one threat that nationalism can pose; intra-national division in addition to the more obvious international division. And that is a concern.

Maybe you think I’m creating a redundant division between two similar words. Maybe you agree with me. Regardless, drop a comment below and let me know!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am not really into politics, but this post really expressed what I’ve been thinking for a while about the recent growth of fanaticism in every field. You talk about patriotism and nationalism, but I could relate this post to the blind fanatic religious sentiments on rampage in my country. Certainly gave me some food for thought…great write.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adi says:

      Thank you for your comment 🙂 Yeah, it’s sad that some people think violence is the best way to convince people to do things.


      1. Yes, violence and manipulation…it is sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. HB says:

    Exactly right. It’s better to be a patriotic than a nationalist. People that are nationalist’s need to open their eyes and mind a bit more. Then maybe, they’ll gain something positive about the rest of the world.
    And yes, violence isn’t always the definitive answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Corbett says:

    In his book “The Endurance of Nationalism”, Aviel Roshwald asks what is the difference between “nationalism” and “patriotism”….and his answer was, if I may paraphrase – patriotism is when our side is doing it, nationalism is when the other side is doing it.

    Your own post highlights how we can have two sides engaged in exactly the same type of identity politics, but only one side is viewed as “nationalist”. You talk about Scottish nationalism, but the implication of your post is that in the Scottish referendum, there were only nationalists on one side – the SNP. You ignore that those opposing Scottish independence were British nationalists, who engaged in the exact same type of flag waving (although not the same flag obviously) and nationalist rhetoric that the SNP did. The British media depicted the SNP as the bad guys, the “nationalists” while presenting the pro-union side as rational, nonthreatening and “patriotic”….but when push came to shove, how where these positions different, other than one supported an existing nation-state and the other proposed a new nation-state? You seem to have accepted the pro-union propaganda that Scotland and England are “the same country” even though Britain as a state only came into existence in 1707 as a political merger between two separate states.

    In short the only thing more dangerous than overt nationalist politics is overt nationalist politics that is able to pretend it is something else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Firstly I’d like to thank you for your comment! It was pretty interesting to just read, let alone ponder. I agree with you that even those who supportive of the union were also nationalistic, but I would make the case that was a more inclusive type of nationalism which is perhaps more acceptable than that of the SNP which attempted to fracture a time tested relationship.


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